Fertile Ground: Warwick Gears Up for the Next Wave of Agriculture | Warwick | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Fertile Ground: Warwick Gears Up for the Next Wave of Agriculture 

Last Updated: 07/01/2021 1:06 pm
click to enlarge Jill and Steve Penning. Penning’s Farm Market began in 1983 as a seasonal farm stand and has since expanded into an agritourism destination with garden center, pub, grill, ice cream stand, bakery, and beer garden. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Jill and Steve Penning. Penning’s Farm Market began in 1983 as a seasonal farm stand and has since expanded into an agritourism destination with garden center, pub, grill, ice cream stand, bakery, and beer garden.

To understand Warwick, you first have to look back. Waaay back. Like, 12,000-years-ago back.

That’s when the glaciers receded from the Hudson Valley, leaving a carved out depression in the 104-square-mile area that currently encompasses the Town of Warwick, just a few miles north of where the border now runs between New York and New Jersey. Those low-lying areas turned into swampy bogs. Flash forward to the dawn of the previous century, when European immigrants to the Hudson Valley who had some experience farming in flooded lands drained the bogs to reveal the massive compost bounty beneath them. This is the fabled “black dirt” of Warwick, flush with nitrogen and sulfur, an agricultural jackpot like few other spots in America.

The Hudson Valley is, of course, famous for its agrarian past. But Warwick has held fast to farm life, even after the local railroad system went kaput with the invention of the automobile and many other Hudson Valley towns looked to modernize.

Those other towns didn’t have a dozen millennia or so of built-up rich soil to work with, however. And so the town continued with its world-famous onion crop, its ample apple orchards spread wide. That’s the Warwick Michael Sweeton remembers when he moved from Brooklyn 60 years ago as a small boy, and it’s pretty much still the Warwick of today, in which Sweeton has served as Town Supervisor for the past 20 years.

click to enlarge Continuing a COVID-era program, restaurants in Warwick spill out on to local streets on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, accompanied by live music. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Continuing a COVID-era program, restaurants in Warwick spill out on to local streets on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons, accompanied by live music.

“We’ve maintained our preservation of farms despite growth,” he says. “We’ve had growth but we have a common vision of where that growth should be and how to manage it.”

When Sweeton says “we,” he refers to not only himself and the leaders of the town’s three villages—Greenwood Lake, Florida, and the village of Warwick—but also the local residents and farmers. Everyone agrees what the town’s strengths are: agriculture and tourism. But those very strengths made it difficult for the town to diversify its economic base and provide more jobs for younger residents. “We don’t have the typical infrastructure that draws companies like road access, widespread utility access,” he says. “We’re a little bit off the beaten path.”

But 10 years ago the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick shutdown. When the jail closed, an opportunity opened. One that, as Sweeton admits, is more than a little ironic considering the prison’s history as a place that swelled during the War on Drugs, once housing up to 750 prisoners, and then becoming obsolete as the country’s attitude toward marijuana began to change.

Cannabis Cluster

It’s now known as the Warwick Valley Office and Technology Corporate Park, as if extensive focus-group testing was undertaken to come up with the most nondescriptive name possible. Sweeton calls it something else.

“We’re calling it a Cannabis Cluster” he says of the former jail site. It started when the town’s farmers began experimenting with growing hemp, looking for a new cash crop. Companies interested in processing hemp for CBD oil and creating CBD products took an interest in the site and the local farmers who were willing to provide them with the raw materials they needed. Then a grower for medicinal marijuana moved in, and now, with recreational use being legalized, Green Thumb Industries is moving in with a $150 million investment and a promise of 150 local jobs.

click to enlarge Ashley Allen celebrating her birthday with friends at the Warwick Valley Winery. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Ashley Allen celebrating her birthday with friends at the Warwick Valley Winery.

“We’ve got an integrated industry that fits with our strength: Our farm community,” says Sweeton. “Our growers have a convenient place to process their product and there are also people interested in purchasing their processed product for the CBD oil as well as building other value-added products.” As the legislation that legalized marijuana mandated that any weed sold in New York must also be grown here—Warwick’s agricultural expertise and rich natural resources make it advantageously positioned to take advantage of the coming boom.

There’s more than reefer madness here. Former Leicester City player Christian Fuchs has opened the Hudson Sports Complex on the site as well, offering fields and training programs for soccer, rugby, football, field hockey and other sports. And in another ironic twist—before it was a prison, the site was owned by New York City as a place to send chronic drunks to dry out—The Drowned Lands Brewery is up and running, offering beers that not only pay homage to Warwick’s geologic history (hence the name,) but also how that history can influence the future of American microbrewing. With over 10,000 craft breweries in business worldwide, Drowned Lands is betting that it can stand out by brewing seasonal beers with a sense of terroir, beers that literally could not be brewed anywhere else. Its current offerings include a Rose Mallow saison and the Slow River, brewed with local hops, oats, malt, wheat, and rye.

Warwick is tripling down on the land, betting that the soil that helped get it where it is today will get it where it wants to be tomorrow. And the bounty of the land includes more than just the soil.

Wide Open

Lynne Lorimer moved to the village of Warwick in 1987 from Bergen County, New Jersey. She raised a family here and now, as a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty, shows off the town to those who come here looking for the same things that drew her here over 30 years ago: More space, a slower pace of life, but still an actual, walkable downtown like the one the village offers. “It still has that historic charm,” she says. “We haven’t seen strip malls and things like that. There’s been so much change but it still feels warm and welcoming.”

click to enlarge Raluca Gold-Fuchs runs the Hudson Sports Complex with her husband, professional footballer Christian Fuchs. She’s pictured here at the facility with former USMNT soccer player Jermaine Jones. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Raluca Gold-Fuchs runs the Hudson Sports Complex with her husband, professional footballer Christian Fuchs. She’s pictured here at the facility with former USMNT soccer player Jermaine Jones.

As if to solidify her deep attachment to the village, Lorimer currently lives in a cottage that was designed and built in the 1800s by former Warwick mayor Clinton Wheeler Wisner. “It’s like a grownup doll’s house, and I absolutely love it,” she says.

But as much as she loves the village, it’s the natural beauty of the town-at-large that helped her, and the newcomers she shows around, fall in love with it: Kayaking at Greenwood Lake, skiing at Mt. Peter, hiking on the Appalachian Trail with a quick stop over at Bellvale Farms Creamery for ice cream, yoga in many of the town’s parks. There’s the three screens at the Warwick Drive-In, drinks at the Warwick Valley Winery and Black Dirt Distillery, and the apple cider doughnuts at Pennings Farm Market—so popular that they once had to hire a doughnut security guard to keep things from getting out of hand. Then there’s the bounty of Warwick’s AppleFest, which draws over 35,000 people every year.

click to enlarge Appalachian Trail thru-hikers at Bellevale Farms Creamery. These are their hiking names from left to right: Bare Paw, Lebowski, Dash, No Name, Aurora (the dog), Anna, Zero. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Appalachian Trail thru-hikers at Bellevale Farms Creamery. These are their hiking names from left to right: Bare Paw, Lebowski, Dash, No Name, Aurora (the dog), Anna, Zero.

Well, not last year. And not this year, either. The local chamber of commerce recently made the tough call that there simply isn’t a realistic way to manage that many people at the (hopefully) tail end of the COVID era. It may be a mixed blessing—35,000 people is a lot of people. “Having lived through AppleFest the last two decades, I would literally plan on not pulling out of my driveway that weekend,” says Lorimer with a laugh.

More of a Good Thing

You wouldn’t think there would be an overlap between Pilates students and car mechanics. You would be wrong.

“When you work on cars for a living, you eventually hurt your back,” says Pilates teacher Morganne Frazier, while showing off a gorgeously restored emerald green pickup truck, which came into her life via an enthusiastic client of hers with an automotive bent. The back of the truck has been converted into a mobile bar, with the words DRINK MORE GOOD painted on the side.

click to enlarge Original Vinyl Records specializes in new and used vinyl records, 45s, 78s, cassettes, 8-tracks, and music memorabilia. Co-owner Jim Eigo is pictured with Diesel, the store’s mascot. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Original Vinyl Records specializes in new and used vinyl records, 45s, 78s, cassettes, 8-tracks, and music memorabilia. Co-owner Jim Eigo is pictured with Diesel, the store’s mascot.

Drink More Good was founded in 2012 by Beaconite Jason Schuler who mixed up all-natural syrups and concoctions to enliven homemade sodas and cocktails. The business outgrew Beacon, and Schuler, now married to Frazier, packed up the business and moved to Frazier’s hometown of Warwick. She now oversees the business and is in the process of opening Good Maker Acres outside the village of Warwick, in an area zoned for both residential and commercial uses.

Behind the truck is the land where Frazier recently planted 1200 strawberry plants for eventual use in their syrups, as well as flowers that visitors can cut, arrange, pot, and take home. Animals, including alpacas, roam around behind the barn which is being turned into a shop for Drink More Good syrups, Pilates classes, and, one day, a bar. “I joke that I want this to be a Farm Disneyland for adults,” she says.

click to enlarge Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway being screened at the Warwick Drive-In. - DAVID MCINTYRE
  • David McIntyre
  • Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway being screened at the Warwick Drive-In.

As someone who grew up in Warwick and has now returned, Frazier has seen the gradual changes that have taken place here as it slowly begins to diversify. The predominantly white town recently held a Juneteenth celebration in the village of Warwick. Political opinions may differ, but in the end Warwick stands up for Warwick. “Everybody wants to support each other,” she says. “Everyone’s got chickens and everyone wants somewhere they can walk to and hang out. Maybe they don’t agree with it but they’re not going to fuss and muss about it.”

That includes someone building a farm with a large shop and Pilates studio in a residential neighborhood. Frazier recalls the town board meeting in which her farm’s plans were up for public scrutiny. She worried that people might protest the project. She needn’t have worried.

“My neighbors came up to me at the meeting and said ‘You should have made the buildings bigger,” says Frazier.

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